The Empty Chair
Author: Darcie Sims
There’s an empty chair in our house and I am not sure what to do with it. It’s been empty a long time and although we’ve moved more than a few times since it became empty, we still haul it around with us. It’s not a particularly classic chair or even a very pretty one, and it is empty…all the time. No one moves it; no one suggests putting it away. No one sits in it. It’s just an empty chair.
As a military family, we are used to having members of the family in faraway places for long periods of time. My father would be gone for up to a year or even two. His chair was often empty at the table. My husband’s military career took him away for many months at a time, and his chair was often empty. And then when our daughter was commissioned in the military we knew her chair would also be empty at times. So empty chairs at our house are not an uncommon thing, but this chair—this chair— should never have been empty.
As the holidays approach, I am always faced with the task of deciding what to do with our empty chair. Should we put it away for the season? Should we decorate it? Or should we just ignore it? One holiday season, we did decide to put it away. Even though it was an empty chair, it left an even bigger empty space.
We’ve tried to ignore it, but its emptiness is very loud and it is hard to miss an empty chair in a room filled with people sitting in all the other chairs. An empty chair is not invisible. One year we decided to include it in our holiday decorating scheme. That led to some interesting discussions. Should we put a special holiday pillow in it? What about tossing a colorful quilt or afghan over the back? Should we put something in the chair? But nothing we tried could fill the emptiness of that chair. It just sat silent like a sentinel, waiting for something…or someone.
It took us many years of living day in and day out with that empty chair to finally figure out what to do with it. Our empty chair is pulled up to the table and a single rose is placed on the plate, a symbol of everlasting love. The empty chair represents all of those who are not with us for this occasion but who live within our hearts forever. For us it is not a sad sight because we know that empty chair represents a love we have known and shared. And with that gift, our family is forever blessed.
We join hands in thanksgiving, completing the circle with the empty chair within our family circle, for even though death may have come, love never goes away.
So, if your holiday table will have an empty chair this year, remember that it is not truly an empty space. That place is still occupied by the love and joy of the one who sat in it. Don’t hide that chair away. You may not wish to bring it to the table as we do, but take time this holiday season to remember the laughter, the joy, the love, the light of those who are no longer within hug’s reach but whose love still fills us with gratitude.
Join hands around your table, however small, and say a prayer of thanksgiving…for the love you have known and still hold deep within your heart. You are rich beyond measure for having had a chair filled. Don’t let death rob you of the heart space that love keeps.
We are a family circle, some chairs filled and others not, broken by death, but mended by love.
By Darcie D. Sims, PhD, CHT, CT, GMS: Darcie Sims is a bereaved parent and child, nationally certified thanatologist, certified pastoral bereavement specialist and licensed psychotherapist and hypnotherapist. She is the president and cofounder of Grief, Inc., a grief consulting business, and the Director of the American Grief Academy in Seattle, Washington. Darcie is an internationally recognized speaker and prolific writer, having authored seven books and numerous articles. For more information and a complete listing of her books, visit www.griefinc.com.